Lifetime Achievement: Green Materials Handling
Lifetime Brands’ newly upgraded DC stands as a model of energy conservation.
When Lifetime Brands Inc. decided to build a new greenfield distribution center in Robbinsville, N.J., in 1999, the home goods manufacturer aimed high: It would consolidate its three manual distribution operations into a single, efficient and automated facility. But this was to be no ordinary DC.
In a staged approach spanning eight years, the company built out not only the facility’s physical size—expanding the total space to 700,000 square feet to accommodate business growth—but chose conveying, picking, and sortation equipment from Dematic Corp., Grand Rapids, Mich., that optimizes energy usage while maintaining high uptime reliability.
GROWTH SPURS EXPANSION
Lifetime Brands is one of North America’s leading designers, developers, and marketers of kitchenware, cutlery and cutting boards, bakeware, cookware, pantryware, tabletop, home decor, picture frames, and bath accessories. The company markets its products under some well-known brands, including KitchenAid, Farberware, Mikasa, Cuisinart, Calvin Klein, and Nautica, as well as the environmentally friendly EcoWorld.
Lifetime Brands distributes its products through almost every major retailer in the United States. In 2007, the Garden City, N.Y.-based company’s net sales exceeded $493 million, a nearly eight-percent increase over the prior year. This growth has been influenced by the company’s vigorous brand acquisitions, which in recent years have included Mikasa, Wallace, Towle, Syratech, and Pfaltzgraff.
The newly upgraded Robbinsville, N.J., facility handles Lifetime Brands’ kitchenware lines, nationally distributing approximately 7,600 SKUs of food-prep items such as baking products, kitchen gadgets, dinnerware, barware, cutting boards, and cutlery.
In 2001, Lifetime Brands completed and made operational the original 550,000-square-foot Robbinsville building. In 2004, it added new pick tower equipment, and in 2006 it expanded the building by 150,000 square feet to accommodate additional conveying and high-speed sortation equipment, another pick tower, and more very narrow aisle (VNA) high-rise pallet racking to accommodate 100,000 pallets (the DC comprises 4.7 miles of VNA wire-guided aisles). In July 2007, Lifetime Brands put the finishing touches on its DC by adding a fifth pick tower, a third high-speed sorter, and more conveying equipment.
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
Ninety-five percent of Lifetime Brands’ 7,600 SKUs come into the DC in containers. The containers are opened and the products are palletized, then put away into storage or tapped to fill current orders using a cross-docking operation.
A warehouse management system (WMS) helps direct picking, as well as product replenishment, from the stored pallets. Batch waving is utilized through the picking and sortation process, and full cases make up the majority of products needed for orders. High-volume items are selected directly onto conveyors in five multi-level pick towers using pick labels.
About 20 percent of the DC’s products, including kitchen gadgets and food preparation items, are split-case manually picked, and scanned to carts using radio frequency technology. Products are then fed into the sortation system at one of several induction points. The facility ships most of the products to a distribution center in bulk. But split-case items are pick-and-pack to a specific store, then shipped consolidated to a DC.
The Robbinsville distribution center’s hub, and the source of its most valuable efficiencies, is its sortation and conveying systems, which reduce manual labor.
"We built energy conservation throughout the entire materials handling system," notes Dematic’s Bob Poth. "Lifetime Brands is able to determine when product is moving through any part of the facility. It can turn off a section of the system automatically when not in use, then turn each section back on when product volume returns."
Dematic’s control system, which uses photo eyes strategically located throughout the conveyor equipment, is the source of this efficiency. The system operates in conjunction with selectable timers, so the equipment only runs at planned intervals. The result is a simple and effective energy conservation module.
Lifetime Brands’ DC uses two Dematic RS Series high-speed sliding shoe sorters. Interleaving extruded aluminum slats in the sorters provide a wide, flat carrying surface that prevents jams and accommodates sorting a variety of product sizes and types.
The DC uses zero-pressure accumulation conveyors to temporarily stop, hold, and release material moving into and out of the sorters. The conveyors allow products to accumulate along a line without pressure buildup.
The facility’s energy conservation module, conveyors, and sortation functions run under Dematic’s SortDirector warehouse control system, which integrates with the Robbinsville WMS and coordinates all product movement inside the distribution center.
By mid-2007, Lifetime Brands’ Robbinsville distribution center was capable of handling 45,000 cartons per day, at an extremely high order accuracy rate.
"The energy efficiencies achieved at the New Jersey facility have helped cut our distribution operating costs," says Craig Phillips, senior vice president for distribution, Lifetime Brands. "We have reduced distribution expense, as a percentage of sales, by 3.75 percent over the past five years.
"Uptime reliability is also critical to running an efficient DC," continues Phillips. "A key operational metric we measure is the system’s uptime, and at Robbinsville it is more than 99 percent. We also attribute much of our inventory and order accuracy to the systems we have in place."